5 Craziest Excuses for Employees Calling in Sick

Sick of employees call in sick? Check out these off-the-wall excuses, and then take note of these preventive measures to quell absenteeism.
5 Craziest Excuses for Employees Calling in Sick
What if employees just need a day off? Should a company institute a “mental health day” benefit?

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People can say some pretty crazy things to get off work. Admit it, you may even have been tempted yourself. And with the holidays right around the corner, employees certainly will make up excuses to skip work.

“People are creative,” says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations, engagement and global HR for the Society for Human Resource Management. “Sad thing is, these things may actually happen to people.”

According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, here are five of the craziest excuses employers have heard from employees calling in “sick.”

  1. A swarm of bees surrounded the car.

  2. The chemical in turkey dinner made the employee oversleep.

  3. False teeth flew out the car window.

  4. Needed to finish Christmas shopping.

  5. Couldn’t decide what to wear.

Honesty is a great policy, that’s true, and Orndorff agrees. But the last two excuses, which may have technically been true, don’t forgive the absence. The truth does not always provide a valid reason for absenteeism — even if that swarm of bees was extremely big.

Orndorff adds that the day after a major sporting event — such as March Madness and the Super Bowl — is one of the most common days employees call in “sick.”

Research seems to support that. An annual study by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that March Madness will cost American companies at least $134 million in lost wages over the first two days of the college basketball tournament.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track absenteeism on specific days, but another survey seems to concur with those numbers.

A survey released by MSN and Impulse Research found that 7 percent of respondents said they take time off to watch the March Madness tournament and 12 percent admitted to calling in sick in the past so they could watch.

Deadly combination

Of course, all businesses deal with employees calling in sick and lost productivity, but, especially for small to mid-sized companies, the combination can be perilous and costly. 

32 percent of professional adults said they called in sick when they weren’t actually ill

Being legitimately sick is one thing, and most companies have established and often generous sick leave policies. But that doesn’t mean abuses don’t occur. 

According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 32 percent of professional adults said they called in sick when they weren’t actually ill. (The survey polled 3,484 workers and 2,099 employers). 

Among the most common reasons cited were:

  • Didn’t feel like going to work (33 percent)

  • Felt they needed to relax (28 percent)

  • Had a doctor’s appointment (24 percent)

  • Wanted to catch up on sleep (19 percent)

  • Wanted to run errands (14 percent) 

Unless a company requires a written excuse from a doctor, it can be difficult to determine if an employee is actually sick. The CareerBuilder survey noted that 30 percent of employers surveyed have checked up on employees — either by requiring a doctor’s note, calling the employee later in the day or checking the employee’s social media posts. 

Show compassion

“There’s valid absenteeism and then there are people abusing the system,” says Orndorff. “The number one thing is to have a conversation with the employee. Don’t jump to conclusions. Find out what’s going on.”

She notes that good managers will have an open line of communication with their employees. Quite simply, that connection can do a lot to quell absenteeism.

“A lot of times, an employee will choose not to come in because their engagement level has dropped significantly,” Orndorff says. “Also, employees are tired. People are fatigued.” 

Commute times, family demands and electronic devices can all lead to stress and disengagement of employees. And sometimes, people may feel they just need a day off, but that’s where communication comes in. 

“Employees are more engaged when they have a relationship with their boss,” she adds. If an employee feels more comfortable talking with their boss, they may be less likely to let them down with a false excuse.

Following up with an employee after an absence is wise as well, says Orndorff. If an employee claims to be out with a sick child, express concern when the employee returns, asking, “How is your daughter today?” That compassionate address, rather than a policing approach, sends a message of concern to the employee.

Orndorff says employers can begin by establishing a corporate culture regarding absenteeism. “That’s something that should be communicated from the very start,” she says. Treat all employees the same. Orndorff says it can hurt the morale of the other employees if one person seems to always “get away with it.” 

But what if employees just need a day off? Should a company institute a “mental health day” benefit? 

Orndorff says, “You don’t want to ‘policy’ people to death.” Again, she agrees that open communication about an employee’s needs is a better preventive measure.

What if employees just need a day off? Should a company institute a “mental health day” benefit? Post a comment below.


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